630 S Wabash 10-24-2006 (24 images)
Chicago Fire Department 5-11 fire with Level 1 Haz-Mat and EMS Plan 1. Photos by Tim Olk reprinted with permission.

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Extra-alarm fire at South Loop building

CTA Green, Orange lines affected

By Stacey Baca

October 25, 2006 (CHICAGO) - Dozens of firefighters continue to douse hot spots at a burned out South Loop building. The extra-alarm fire is under control, but fears that the building may collapse prompted a shutdown of the nearby CTA elevated tracks.

The CTA is encouraging riders to allow extra travel time to get to school or work after a fire at 630 South Wabash destroyed a landmark building Tuesday. Green and Orange line service between Roosevelt Road and the Loop has been suspended. Commuters traveling into the city on the affected lines will have to transfer to the Red line at Roosevelt Road. They can also transfer to the Number 29 State Street bus. CTA officials say those transfers will be free.

"You would think that they would have a bus that followed the Orange Line route. Instead they are sending to us to the Red Line and places where they don't go," said Geri Alberts, commuter.

Columbia College has also canceled classes in two of its buildings -- 619 and 623 South Wabash -- which are near the burned out building. All classes in Columbia's other buildings will go on as scheduled.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said a "collapse zone" prohibiting pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the building was established because of concerns that it could come crashing down. Those street closures remain in effect.

The blaze broke out around 3 p.m. Tuesday in the landmark building and it was eventually escalated to a five-alarm fire that brought about 325 firefighters to the scene. Officials believe the fire began in the basement of the building and then spread to the floors above.

A hazardous materials team also responded because of concerns about flammable materials in a lower section of the building, which once housed the George Diamond Steakhouse.

The fire, which sent smoke billowing into the air that could be seen from miles around, completely engulfed the interior of the building. It took about 3 1/2 half hours for firefighters to get it under control, but they still were pouring water on the building and putting out flames overnight.

The thick smoke and fears of a collapse prompted Chicago police to keep motorists, residents, workers, and Columbia College students at a safe distance.

"I had to take a test today. I was kind of worried about that. I had to find out from the news and from the information line on Columbia's phone that classes were canceled in three of four of our buildings," said Brianna Heffron, Columbia College Student.

"I kind of took a while to get out of class. Once I got down to the street, there were all these people. I walked over and the whole building was in flames. It's kind of wild to experience something like that that you have never seen before," said Brandon Rizzo, Columbia College Student.

The fire has burned much of the roof and floors but the walls remain standing.

One firefighter and one civilian were hospitalized in good condition for minor injuries related to the blaze.

So far, there has been no word on what may have sparked it.

The building itself was built in 1887 by the famed architectural firm of Sullivan and Adler. The city designated it a landmark in 1996.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2006 ABC Inc., WLS-TV Chicago.